Teach tolerance

bakersfield.com - Herb Benham

Here's another proposition: Teach tolerance

My first response to Proposition 22 is that it's hateful. That it's anti-people and anti-gay. That it blames people who don't deserve to be blamed.

My next response is to want to lash out and lay waste to the proponents of Proposition 22, which says "Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California."

Maybe, though, it's time to take a deep breath. Perhaps where there is anger, there is also opportunity.

An opportunity to teach. Another to learn. If nothing else, it's great dinner-table conversation. It's livened up our house. We have talked more in the last two weeks about propositions than in the previous 16 years. Proposition 22 has gotten the kids' attention. It's gotten ours, too.

What are the lessons here? The message we want our children to hear? I'd start with tolerance.

We can teach them not to hate people who are different than they are.

I'm not completely liberated myself. I get nervous when I see a gay couple holding hands. I get a lump in my throat when I think about gays getting married in a church. I'm not sure I'm ready for that one yet.

Even so, I cannot tell my kids that gay marriage threatens heterosexual marriage. That gay families threaten traditional families.

I don't think homosexuality is some sort of a virus. That kids catch the homosexual disease and become gay if they have a teacher who is gay.

That if a gay person lives in your neighborhood, you might become gay by associating with them.

That just because gays may walk hand-in-hand in public, the whole heterosexual population is bound to come down with that so-called sickness.

That if gays are allowed to marry, the institution of marriage may be struck mortally ill.

Kids are not stupid. They can see that marriage is already a tad fluish. The damage is being done by red-blooded men and women.

They see this every day at school. My children tell me so. If you volunteer in classrooms, you can see it yourself.

The students with absentee, drug-using or just plain disconnected parents. The students who lash out because they are angry, confused and isolated.

The mothers left high and dry. The children without the love, attention and direction that two parents can provide — children who may have discipline problems and even trouble with the law later on.

What do we tell our kids? We tell them that yes, marriage is under siege.

However, it is not due to a small percentage of the population — gays — who want to legitimize, legalize and normalize their relationships.

It's mothers without sense. Fathers without commitment. Couples without resources.

What kind of examples are we being by demonizing gay people? Making them the scapegoats. From my experience of living around gays, they are the quietest, most law-abiding segment of the population.

What we ought to tell our kids is this: If you want to do your part in protecting marriage, don't get married unless you mean it. Stay married if you do. Raise your kids. Teach them something.

Start with lessons of tolerance. Love thy neighbor — even if he does not look like you or act like you.

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